Types of Stone and Wood Conservatory Flooring
Granite is an ‘igneous rock’ – rock that is formed when molten rock (magma) cools down slowly under pressure and becomes solid. Igneous rocks are typically extremely hard and granite is no exception to this. Due to its density it can be polished to a glass-like finish. Granite is available in a range of colours – predominantly blues, greys and blacks, but also browns too. As granite is so much harder than other materials, granite conservatory flooring does not need to be as thick.
Despite its incredible hardness and density it remains porous and should be treated with an appropriate sealer once installed. Granite is extremely tough and hardwearing. Under-floor heating is advisable.
Slate is a ‘metamorphic rock’ – in this case formed through the metamorphosis of shale. Shale itself is the most common sedimentary rock and is composed of clay and silt. Slate is formed when shale is exposed to extreme atmospheric heat and pressure. Slate is most commonly used as a roofing material due to its excellent weather-resistance and the ability to split slabs of slate along its grain into sheets.
Most slate comes from Spain, India, Turkey, China and also from Wales.
Slate flooring can be either riven, (its natural uneven appearance after splitting), or machined (calibrated) to a smoother finish. Riven slate is naturally non-slip and this leads to it also being used in paving patio areas.
Slate is available in varying grades suitable for exterior or interior flooring purposes and while we are all familiar with the dark grey shade of slate it is in fact available in arguably a wider range of colours than any other natural stone product. Slate is generally cheaper than limestone, travertine and other natural stone floorings.
As its use as a roofing material would suggest, slate is not a porous substance. Slate conservatory flooring will scratch or become marked if subjected to excessive wear and so it should be treated and sealed. Riven slate will also lose fragments or flakes from raised areas while it settles in and these are by their very nature extremely sharp. Under-floor heating is recommended with slate conservatory flooring.
Marble is a ‘metamorphic rock’ – effectively pure limestone that has been exposed to high environmental heat and pressure causing it to change. Due to its higher density it can be polished to an almost mirror-finish, although it is also available with a less glassy brushed finish. Most marble comes from Italy, explaining why it was used in abundance by the Romans.
Available in a range of natural and vibrant colours, its intricate and dramatic veining adds to its visual appeal. Marble adds an elegant, high quality feel to almost any environment and costs are again broadly comparable to limestone and travertine. Using marble for your conservatory floor together with suitable under-floor heating would produce a dramatic and classy feel that would last a lifetime if properly cared for. It should be noted that marble is extremely sensitive to acids (even lemon juice can damage marble) and will require regular polishing in order to preserve its appearance.
Despite its polished appearance it is still porous and will need to be treated accordingly, and under-floor heating is also advised.
Laminate flooring is not always suitable for conservatories as it can fade when exposed to excessive amounts of sunlight and can also expand and contract with the wide range of temperatures found inside a conservatory. If you wish to add a laminate conservatory floor it is important to check suitability with the flooring product manufacturer before you proceed.
Laminate flooring is a comparatively cheap and easy way to add a wood-effect floor to any area of your home, and there are varying grades available with the costs varying accordingly. Laminate flooring is essentially a tough coating covering little more than a photographic image of wood, bonded to a timber core, most commonly MDF. The back of the timber core often has a coating on it to make it less susceptible to damage by damp – although it is always recommended that a vapour barrier be used when installing laminate flooring over stone or concrete sub-floors.
Laminate flooring has become extremely popular in the last few years and some of the variants available do in fact look extremely convincing, although they are still no match for real wood.
Laminate flooring is typically supplied in packs of tongue-and groove flooring planks which lock together. Some types of flooring require you to secure the planks to each other with PVA glue along the joints, while others have a more advanced and engineered joint that allows the planks to click into place firmly against each other with no adhesive required. Planks can be easily cut to size by hand or with basic power tools such as a jigsaw or circular saw with appropriately fine blades.
Care should be taken to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on laying laminate flooring, in particular to ensure that you allow the recommended expansion gaps. Laminate flooring does tend to expand and contract significantly with temperature changes and failure to allow room for expansion will result in the floor lifting in places – if it cannot expand outward due to insufficient gaps then the only way for it to go is upwards, in much the same way as a plastic ruler will buckle in the middle if you push both ends together! This is not only unsightly – it can permanently damage sections of your flooring and necessitate replacement.
Laminate flooring can also be quite noisy, but this can be minimised with suitable insulation materials placed between the sub-floor and the laminate flooring itself. These absorb some of the sound and are also effective thermal insulators. Laminate flooring can be cold even with insulation underneath and so under-floor heating should be considered.
Installing a conservatory laminate floor is a fairly simple prospect for any reasonably competent or experienced DIYer.
Real Wood Flooring / Solid Wood Flooring / Solid Timber Flooring
While real word flooring may look and seem like a perfect choice for conservatory flooring, the potentially wide temperature range inside a conservatory can cause problems with solid timber flooring as with laminate flooring.
Wood expands quite considerably with increases in temperature and also has a tendency to warp and twist, and under floor heating can exacerbate the issue. If you would like the look and feel of a solid wood floor but without the associated problems, please see the section on Engineered Hardwood Flooring below.
Engineered Hardwood Flooring
Engineered hardwood flooring has the exact appearance of a solid wood floor but uses a sandwich construction technique developed in Scandinavia around 50 years ago in order to combat the warping and twisting problems associated with solid wood flooring.
Generally thicker than other timber floor products at around 15-20mm, this can be explained in terms of its construction – several separate layers are used to give the product its strength and the properties that make it suitable for use in a conservatory.
The top layer of the flooring is around 4mm thick and is the finished hardwood surface that you will see once the floor has been laid in your conservatory. In the centre of the sandwich is a core of softwood with the grain at right-angles to that of the hardwood above it and the bottom layer is also 90 degrees out from the core. This results in a product that will not expand markedly in one specific direction, and gives engineered hardwood flooring stability not found in other wood flooring.
The top layer of engineered hardwood flooring is real hardwood and as such it is available in many different types and shades. Practically any kind of hardwood that you can find used in a solid wood floor can also be found used as a top layer in EHF, and so you should be able to achieve the desired look for your conservatory floor while ensuring that the most suitable and durable materials are used. Common timber options include oak, beech, ash, maple, teak and mahogany – many more are available.
More expensive variants may utilise many more layers and different timber variants such as spruce and birch – the greater the number of layers with the grain running perpendicular to its neighbouring layers, the greater the stability and durability of the flooring, generally speaking.
Engineered hardwood flooring made using birch or slow-growing timbers will be stronger than the cheaper softwood-based products. Some cheaper products even use MDF or plywood cores and these should be avoided.
Engineered hardwood flooring will need to be treated as a solid wood floor in terms of care and maintenance – regular sweeping of the surface will eliminate grit and debris that can scratch or damage the floor and a good quality doormat is recommended to reduce this. Periodic mopping will remove anything more stubborn.
The floor will require periodic (annual) re-lacquering or oiling but this is a straightforward job and an inexpensive proposition whether undertaken as a DIY task, or even when carried out by a specialist. Every 10 years or so the floor will probably need to be sanded and resealed, and doing this will ensure that your floor will last you in excess of 50 years if quality materials are used and the floor is properly cared for!
Under-floor heating can be used to make an engineered hardwood flooring solution and even more comfortable and pleasing addition to your conservatory.